Breaking News Emails
President Donald Trump attacked Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, in an unsubtle tweet Wednesday, a day after Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations and admitted he made hush-money payments to women at Trump's direction.
"If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don't retain the services of Michael Cohen!" Trump wrote.
Cohen said in his plea Tuesday that he had paid two women, apparently porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, "at the direction" of an unnamed candidate in 2016 — meaning Trump — and that a $150,000 payment in August 2016 was for the "principal purpose of influencing" the 2016 presidential election.
Both Daniels and McDougal have said they had sexual relationships with Trump. Asked if he knew that what he did was illegal, Cohen told the court yes.
In another tweet, later Wednesday morning, the president suggested that Cohen's admitted campaign finance violations "are not a crime."
"Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime," Trump tweeted. The president added that "President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!" — an apparent reference to a $375,000 fine levied by the Federal Election Commission in 2013 against Obama's 2008 presidential campaign for failing to report more than 1,000 contributions.
That settlement, which included one of the largest fines handed down by the FEC, was the product of an audit of the campaign's finances, which found missing notices for about 1,300 contributions, which totaled more than $1.8 million. The audit also found that the campaign did not promptly refund some contributions that had exceeded legal limits.
That case appears markedly different from the details emerging about the violation pleaded to by Cohen on Tuesday. Administrative errors by campaigns are commonplace and are often settled with fines. But willful violations of the campaign finance laws are considered crimes, and have been successfully prosecuted by the Election Crimes Branch, which is in the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.
In an excerpt of an interview with "Fox & Friends" released Wednesday afternoon, Trump said he knew about Cohen's payments to the two women "later on."
"And they weren't taken out of campaign finance. That is a big thing," Trump said. "They came from me. I tweeted about it."
"My first question, when I heard about it was, did they come out of the campaign?" the president added. "Because that could be a little dicey. And, they didn't come out of the campaign. It is not even a campaign violation."
Cohen had said in March that he had used money from a home equity loan to pay $130,000 to Daniels, who has said she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago. He told the court on Tuesday that after using the money from the loan to make the payment, he was reimbursed by the unnamed candidate.
Trump for his part addressed the $130,000 payment for the first time in April, saying he was not aware of it. But in May, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani revealed Trump had repaid Cohen the $130,000, even though Cohen had said previously he'd paid Daniels out of his own pocket and without Trump's knowledge.
Trump's latest tweets Wednesday came hours after Cohen's attorney, Lanny Davis, told NBC's "Today" that his client would not accept a pardon from the president and is willing to share additional information about Trump with special counsel Robert Mueller's team.
Moments later, Trump tweeted about another former associate who was dealt a huge legal blow on Tuesday: Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, who was found guilty on eight felony counts by a federal jury in Virginia.
"I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family," Trump wrote, before using the case to take another shot at Cohen.
"'Justice' took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to 'break' - make up stories in order to get a 'deal,'" Trump wrote.
"Such respect for a brave man!" he added, before tweeting that "A large number of counts, ten, could not even be decided."
"Witch Hunt!" the president wrote.
Manafort was found guilty on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, and two counts of bank fraud. The judge declared a mistrial on the 10 other charges he faced.
Manafort faces an estimated seven to nine years in prison.